Introduction to Micah:
The prophets in general deal a lot in the themes of God's judgment for idolatry in general, and especially judgment for the patterns of injustice, corruption, immorality, and religiosity detached from real worship of God. The minor prophets are especially difficult to read because of their poetic form and overwhelmingly bleak content. But we're going to walk through a few of those books in the next few months and trust that it will be profitable and life-giving for us, as all Scripture is when rightly understood and applied.
So, here's the setting. Micah is a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea, two other prophets in Israel during the late 7th century and early 8th century B.C. The nation is divided at this point into a Southern Kingdom, Judah, and a Northern Kingdom, Israel. The capitol city in the south is Jerusalem, and in the north it's Samaria. Micah is a prophetic voice speaking words of warning concerning God's coming judgement on The whole nation of Israel. This judgement would come later through the Assyrians and Babylonians.
Micah is speaking into a culture that was insulated at the moment from some it's historic vulnerabilities which made them more conscious of their need for God's help and protection. Israel, though divided has an established place in the world, a thriving economy within the world, and a reputable military known to the world. God's people were no longer displaced wanderers. They were affluent and powerful. They had pedigree and history and stability but in their decadence, they had drifted from their roots and lost sight of Yahweh. But God has not lost sight of them. it's into that setting that Micah's message(s) is (are) delivered.
Because of the difficulty in understanding this particular genre of writing, I will do more interpretive work than usual here, and try to offer some personal appliction to, in terms of what God is calling his people to then, but in terms of what he's calling us to now.
v. 1-7 - It's a pretty scary thought when Micah frames God as an eye witness coming to testify against his own people... scarier still when the star witness in a case against you is also the Judge. But that's Israel's situation.
Basically, the case God has against both those in the Northern and Southern Kingdoms is generally characterized as their idolatry and both places will be destroyed.
v. 8-9 - These copule verses are Micah grieving and mourning the state of Judah. He's not speaking as a distant or detached prophet, like Jonah to Ninevah. Rather, he's lamenting the condition of a people and the warning of judgement coming to a people, to whom he belongs. He feels the weight of the word of the Lord and heaviness of God's anger toward them.
v. 10-16 - There are lot of Hebrew wordplays going on in the poetic language and imagery which are lost in the English translation. But a substance level, Micah is essentially listing off different cities which face disaster because of the coming judgement of God.
v. 13 is especially compelling because it's giving perhaps a first glance at the specific form of idolatry that provoked God's wrath. Micah says to, "Harness the steeds to the chariots..." ironically invoking a symbol of fighting to be used for fleeing. But, then he adds this little insight to the end of the verse, "...it was the beginning of sin."
Micah seems to be tying the accumulation of instruments for war, and something of the wealth and/or militarism which they represent, to their transgression and judgement.
This introductory chapter to Micah brings up a lot of angst which it does nothing to resolve, so we're left to sit in this unsettled place. But what if that in itself is part of the way we effectively engage with Scripture. We're so desperate for comfort and happiness and okayness in our lives that we don't want ot talk about things that are painful or hard. We don't want to think about unpleasant realities.
Or perhaps, on the other side, we're just so rule by the negative emotions and depression and heaviness that we aren't inclined to look beyond darkness. Neither of those is biblical or helpful.
The goodness of Jesus and the glory of the gospel shine brightest against the backdrop of the darkness of our lives and the world. Micah 1 confronts us with some uncomfortable things we need to wrestle with and reconcile in our own hearts and minds. There are two primary things...
1) We're all idolaters
Idolatry is simply the elevating of anything above God in terms of worth, value, significance or authority. It's diminishing God's glory and downplaying his authoirity, in order to displace him from the throne of our lives in favor of a lesser object for our worship. Whatever Jerusalem and Samaria are guilty of, we operate in the same spaces.
2) God takes idolatry really seriously
The other thing is that God is not playing games here. God is revealing to us his own heart toward human rebellion and sin, particularly toward those who have claim covenant with him, but who have nothing to do with him. And it's not that God is petulent or reactionary. He's slow to anger. But we're long in our disobedience and he's not the permissive parent we all think is ideal when we're 15. God is loving Father who patient and merciful and kind, but he's not a pushover. Sin and rebellion demand a response from God.
3) The Cross is God's ultimate answer to idolatry
And this is why the cross is so precious... it's not just that Jesus is willing suffer on our behalf in a general sense. It's that Jesus was willing to absorb the legitimate and righetous wrath of God against our chronic idolatry. The cross doesn't undermine the wrath of God or the idea of God's judgment on human sin or unrepentance sinners. The cross affirms these realities and categories and identifies Jesus as the one who was willing to receive our just punishment in his own person so that we wouldn't have to suffer the dserved penalty ourselves.
Micah is declaring the heart of God toward sin through a prophetic warning of destruction. Jesus will come to display the same heart of God toward sin through his personal willingness to receive the destruction that was due us. The cross doesn't trivialize sin or idolatry or holiness or God's authority. The cross crystallizes the seriousness of these things.
v. 1-5 - Micah seems to be indicating that God's judgement has been provoked, in part, by greed and economic injustice. God cares about our business practices, our treatment of employees, our exploitation of the vulnerable and corrupt use of power for personal gain. He will defend the weak, and intervene on behalf of the oppressed, and he will not let the oppressor off the hook. Israel has somehow gone from the oppressed to the oppressor, and God is not having it.
v. 6-11 - These verses are an indictment on Israel for only wanting to hear preaching that indulges them, affirms them and promotes what they want. They will only pay attention to preaching that scratches their itching ears. There is no place in Israel for the prophetic truth to confront their sin, and to call them out of wickedness and to repentance. In this sense, Micah even says that Israel has become it's own worst enemy (v. 8) and God won't sit passively by and watch as they assume his support or indifference toward their idolatry and rebellion.
v. 12-13 - For the first time, Micah transitions, suddenly and surprisingly, out of this foreshadowing of destruction and to God's intent to rescue those who are faithful. While Israel is overwhelmingly corrupted and complicit in creating a culture of idolatry, there are some who remain faithful to the Lord.
There are some whose hearts still worship God in spirit and in truth. There are those who have not been swept up in a sea of worldliness and who remain steadfast in their surrenderedness to Yahweh... and God will indeed gather them to himself. Though judgment is coming upon the nation as a whole, he will spare those who are truly His. Though they will suffer alongside those who are guilty, they will be saved by God's grace. And rather than suffering under the predatory and corrupt kings of the earth, the Lord himself will gather them to himself, and he will be their King. He will surround them and lead them and protect them and cause them to flourish. Though Jerusalem and Samaria will be destroyed, and God's people will be displaced, they will not be wiped out, and God's covenant will not be abandoned, nor will his promises of redemption fail.
Isn't this the reality we all live within even today. Corruption and injustice and oppression are all around us. And God is not disinterested or detached from it in any way. Judgement is coming. In many ways, judgement is already here. We flaunt sin, celebrate immorality, justify idolatry, promote wickedness, and on and on. This is not only the stuff that brings judgement, but it's the stuff that indicates judgement has come at some level. God, in our persistence and instistence to ignore him and indulge our flesh and inflate our pride eventually gives us over to those things, to suffer the natural consequences of living outside God's good design and without regad for His glory or authority.
And in a culture in that place, the repentant struggle and suffer alongside the rebellious. Those who trust in the Lord are greatly troubled by all that troubles those who have trusted in themselves. The Christian who has trusted in Christ and his cross, walks in the darkness brought about by those who want nothing to do with Christ or who try to use Christ to advance their own agenda. We live in the painful effects of God's judgement, but we are spared the painful ends of God's judgement. Rather than being cut off from his people, we are gathered as his people. Rather than being counted among the guilty, we are counted among the godly. We've made and make our own contribution to the idolatrous cultures we belong to, but God, in his great mercy, has set us apart even now and he will set us on the heights when Jesus returns in judgment.
God's heart for those who reject him by rejecting His Son, are still aligned with v. 1-11. And those who have surrendered to God, and received His Son, with the empty hands of faith are those in v. 12-13. One way to tell which camp you find yourself in, and one of the real tensions I see in this text for us, is how we will hear words of warning like these?
Will we align with the wicked of v. 1-11, who only want to hear talk of affirmation, encouragement, and flattery? Will we be those who cringe at any idea of judgment, and who scorn and scoff at at a God who won't wink at sin or let us define for ourseleves what is right and good? Do we reject preaching and teaching that doesn't indulge our natural desires and comfortable lives? Or will we allow the word of God to be preached in all it's terrifying and convicting truth? Will we allow the doctrines of grace to be brightened by the reality of our guilt and God's wrath toward sin. Will we allow the cross of Jesus to loom as largely as it should because of our helplessness and hopelessness apart from it? Will we allow the gospel to be proclaimed boldly and faithfully so that it provokes us continually to repentance and faith in Jesus?
A Prayer for Hearing:
Father, guard my heart from the ever present impulse to hear only that which appeals to my flesh. Protect me from giving credibility to only that which feeds my natural impulses and appetites. Our culture, even our church culture, is increasingly rejecting or diminishing the authority of Scripture, and I'm fully capable of getting caught up in that tidal wave. Keep me submitted to the full counsel of the word of God for your namesake, and for the sake of my joy and salvation. Let my ears and heart always burn when truth is rightly proclaimed, even when it cuts. Amen.
You'll have to forgive me... I wrote a bit yesterday here and for some reason it didn't save it... I may try to re-type something later, but alas, technology may have won Wednesday.
Micah shifts gears in chapters 4 and 5 from the pronouncement of judgement coming on God’s people, to the promise of a later time when God’s promise to redeem and deliver his people will be upheld and fulfilled. Essentially, the prophet is telling them that even in the midst of the darkness coming upon them, God is not abandoning them or his word, but that this is another development along the way to the unaltered climax of God’s plan. Remember, we read different parts of the Bible within the the context of the whole Bible. We do not read as those who have no idea where things will end up or where this is going. We read as those who have the end of the story already revealed.
So, this is a word of hope and comfort even to a people in sin and under judgement. And as is often the case in the OT, there are different layers to the prophetic word, different horizons of fulfillment… at one level, God’s judgement of Israel, exercised through the Assyrians and Babylonians, will give way to the return of Israel from exile to rebuild the temple and the city walls. But ultimately, the promise of God’s deliverance of his people, and the greater salvation to which Micah is pointing is through Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who will come to liberate sinful humanity from sin itself.
v. 1-5 - Micah is giving this vision of a coming world and reality in which the violence and injustice which Israel has suffered and of which they are now perpetrators, will be turned on it’s head. There is a kingdom coming that will transform weapons now used for destruction and chaos into tools for production and order; where the wars within us and around will give way to a peace that envelopes everything; where fear will be replaced by safety; and where the idolatrous wanderings of our hearts will be replaced by the singular devotion to and worship of God.
v. 6-8 - There is coming a day where the diseased and disabled, the displaced, and the disaffected will be gathered to Lord, who heal them, give them a home, and who will cause them to flourish. And Jerusalem, the city to which destruction is coming will be at the epicenter of this renewed Kingdom...
v. 9-13 - Micah is giving them a picture of God’s ultimate end game, but with that prophetic image, their present darkness and coming destruction will and should feel all the more tragic. But God is not done with them… He is using other nations against them, but still to fulfill his own good purposes for them. The imagery of threshing is about God sifting them and ridding them of all that’s robbing them of life in Him. He is using her enemies to awaken Israel from their slumber; to jolt them out of their lethargy; to crush their spirits in a way that brings them to their senses… and to repentance. He’s provoking Israel through their physical defeat to fight her real enemy of indwelling sin and idolatry and waywardness. He’s calling them out of decadence and indulgence and back to dependency… where the envisioned end of v. 1-5 can be their eternal reality.
I wonder if God is using turmoil in your life right now as an invitation back to him… as an appeal for your repentance and a gracious warning of the destruction you may be bringing on yourself, which can be avoided through repentance and faith.
v. 1-5a - This is prophesied at a time of great darkness in Israel, and it's anticipating a greater salvation than they are even longing for. This foreshadows a Savior whose coming has been imminent, even from eternity past ("Ancient of Days") and yet who will be born in Bethlehem as a baby. Isreal's deliverance from her long endured pain and peristent anguish will by synchronized with the coming of the Messiah, who will provide for Israel's deepest needs; who will rescue and protect them from their greatest enemies; and who will give leadership and hope through divine power. This Messiah will not just usher in peace and give them safety and security, he himself will be their peace.
v. 5b-6 - The hope of the Messiah and his gracious and loving rule is contrasted with the violent and militaristic powers of the earth. These verses are differentiating the kind of kingdoms that dominate the earthly landscape from the kind of Kingdom that God is ushering in through the Savior.
v. 7-9 - Micah is saying that among the throngs of people and the many nations of the earth, there is a "remnant", or a true Israel that will be rescued and preserved by the Messiah. This will be a small but powerful people, whose enemies will be many and strong, but who will not destroy those whom God has gathered to himself.
v. 10-15 - Micah then says that there is coming a day when, through the Messiah, God will bring an end to the warring of nations; the worshipping of idols; the flaunting of sin; the trusting in earthly powers. God is saying that he will expose all these things for the fraud they are and his own power and might will be revealed as he deals with every rebellious people who despised him and lived for themselves.